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NYers' anxiety fueled by economy, summer's end

Sure, a little anxiety is an inevitable byproduct of life in the city, but some therapists say New Yorkers haven’t been this jittery in years.  

High anxiety has been fueled by rampant job losses and a collapsing economy. And cases of the nerves may only get worse now that summer is over and the eighth anniversary of 9/11 is around the corner.  

“This is a period of time that traditionally brings anticipation with back-to-school as a baseline,” said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “There’s a sense of the summer’s over and we’re going to see what’s going to happen. While there’s hope that things are going to be better, there’s a great deal of uncertainty.”

New Yorkers have been struggling to cope with growing stress. Gabriel Gonzalez, 31, a Manhattan resident, began suffering from migraines because of increased anxiety.

“Work and social life and living here in the city have been hectic. It has been to the point where I was thinking I want to start somewhere fresh, somewhere new,” Gonzalez said.

Evidence of over-the-top stress can be found at local pharmacies and therapists’ offices where some psychologists have seen the highest level of anxiety since the aftermath of 9/11. Two Zitomer Pharmacy locations saw about a ten percent increase of anti-anxiety prescriptions in the past nine months and between a five and 10 percent boost in antidepressants, which are sometimes used to treat anxiety disorders.
People who did not have a problem before the recession have been talking to doctors about anxiety issues and others who weren’t coping well before are also suffering, said Peter Kanaris, a psychologist and coordinator for public education for the New York State Psychological Association.

“The loss of jobs, the fear of loss of the home, this has ratcheted up the level of stress where people are responding to that with health problems--both mental and physical,” he said.

Some doctors believe that anxiety levels aren’t necessarily up, it’s people’s acceptance of taking psychiatric medication that has risen. A recent study showed that most people felt the drugs are helpful.

“There was a greater stigma in taking them,” said Dr. Lena Verkhovsky, a Manhattan psychiatrist. “Now there is a much greater social acceptance of both psychiatric illness and treatment.”

Physicians are also more comfortable prescribing medications that have been tested in the general population for a long time. Advertising has also played a role in people’s acceptance, which Verkhovsky believes is an overall good thing, but she’s also had to counsel patients who come in asking for a medication she might not feel is the best choice.

While the economic future remains unclear, some New Yorkers who suffered from anxiety are starting to cope in constructive ways. Jason Ewing’s mother was laid off in May, and volunteering at church and taking classes have helped her wade out of anxiety issues.

“She’s bouncing back,” said Ewing, 23, of Queens. “She’s feeling more confident because she’s learning more skills.”

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